Signs of the Homeless

Willie Baronet, artist and advertising professor in SMU's Meadows School of the Arts' Temerlin Advertiisng Institute, is nicely profiled in a story about his 20-year practice of purchasing signs from homeless people.

By Michael J. Mooney

Willie Baronet is looking for a sign.

He pulls his Prius out of a coffee shop parking lot near SMU and heads south on Central Expressway. He goes east on I-30 and, after a mile or so, pulls onto the service road. He slows down at each overpass, craning his neck in both directions.

“It’s rush hour,” he says, a bit frustrated. He’s 53, tall and lean, with a carefully crafted goatee and a faint Cajun accent. “You think they’d be out.”

But it’s also 98 degrees outside, according to the car thermometer, and the streets and sidewalks are close to empty. Baronet turns the car around, then loops through East Dallas for 10 minutes before heading back to I-30. He still doesn’t see what he’s looking for.

Then, just as he’s talking about going to the other side of town, he pulls up to a red light and spots a man standing along the curb. From a distance, Baronet can tell he’s thin, wearing a tank top and a white hat, and holding something brown and flat in his hand. As Baronet approaches the corner, he pushes the button on his door and rolls down his window. Up close, the man on the street looks gaunt. The sweat on his shoulders—dripping from his ears—shimmers in the harsh sun. His ball cap is filthy. His cheeks are scored, and his chin is pecked with white stubble. His eyes are glassy but fixed, present. The cardboard in his hands reads:...

Baronet has been buying and collecting signs made by homeless people for 20 years. He doesn’t claim to be an expert on the homeless or homelessness. He’s an artist, an advertising professor at SMU....